What is one thing Whitman and Dickinson had in common?
Both Whitman and Dickinson were American individualists. Dickinson was the more conservative of the two. She lived a rather reclusive life and rarely left the house. In a similar fashion, her poems are somewhat constrained. They follow a traditional meter, and they use an economy of words. However, she manages to express a great deal with few words. Her oddities and her particular take on life, including her fascination with death (in such poems as "Because I could not stop for Death") come through in her writing. In addition, she has an unorthodox stance towards religion. For example, her poem "This World is not Conclusion" poses the question of whether immortality, or life after death, truly exists. She writes, "It beckons, and it baffles—," implying that religious dogma about the existence of life after death is subject to questioning.
While Whitman lived a far more public and less conservative life, his writing is similar to Dickinson's in its expression of individuality. His "Song of Myself," with its opening line, "I celebrate myself, and sing myself," is a democratic invitation for people to express themselves freely. Though Whitman's meter and form are far less conventional than those of Dickinson, he also expresses his individuality and freedom from traditional religious thought in his works. Rather than finding religion in houses of worship, he finds it in the natural world. He expresses his belief in the power of nature to elevate people to transcendence in lines such as "I will go to the bank by the wood and become undisguised and naked,/I am mad for it to be in contact with me." Both Whitman and Dickinson were American individualists who exercised freedom in their religious thought.
Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson both "broke the rules" of poetry, but they defied poetic tradition in different ways. Walt Whitman primarily used a free verse style. He abandoned the rhythm and meter of traditional verse forms and wrote in sentences that used the rhythms of natural speech. Most of his works did not use traditional rhyme schemes and often didn't rhyme at all. Emily Dickinson, on the other hand, retained the rhythm and meter that poets typically used, often writing in a common ballad form. However, she defied other conventions of poetry, especially by plentiful use of slant rhyme--words that don't exactly rhyme but almost do. She also used unconventional capitalization and punctuation. She capitalized words seemingly at random and frequently punctuated lines with dashes, helping to break up the consistent rhythm and meter of her stanzas. By breaking new ground in poetry, both Whitman and Dickinson displayed individualism in their work and strongly influenced changes in poetry that would mark the 20th century.